My heart races uncontrollably. Sweat beads down my chin. The heat and humidity draining every bit of strength left in my legs. The only things that break my rhythmic puffing are the sounds of gunshots echoing through the valley. Ahead and behind are people in a similar predicament. Nowhere to go but straight up or down. One wrong step and you’re done. No, this is not a battlefield, this is the Koko Head Crater Trail in Hawaii.
Having gone on a scenic drive around the island of Oahu with Rick’s Tours the day before, I spotted what appeared to be an epic hill with a steady stream of what appeared to be the walking dead dragging themselves up the slope. The ever-friendly guide Rick said it had long been a place he wanted to go, but despite being a local he was yet to visit. He also added in his typically surly manner “It’s probably best to go early before all the bloody tourists arrive.” I think he forgot we were those ‘Bloody tourists’. This however acted as the motivation to include a visit to this stairway to the clouds the following day.
An early rise and we drove the 15 minutes north from Honolulu to the trail head, located at a small reserve where several baseball pitches and a parking lot sat in the saddle between the towering peak of Koko Crater and a headland across the freeway that overlooked Hanauma Bay. It was clear we were in the right place as loads of other lunatics were already on location and making the journey up the track to the top.
The exposed trail is essentially a disused rail trail that goes to a former military establishment. Today it’s a rundown track with over 1,000 steps leading to the summit some 400m or so above sea level. The journey traverses a dusty and exposed steep climb where you walk/hike/run between railroad tracks, using the old timber sleepers as steps. It’s relatively intact, with only a small section a little over half way up now in a state that can best be described as a bridge. Essentially there are around 20 steps where there’s nothing beneath the timber slabs and should you slip, you’ll cause yourself a mischief.
The challenge of the trail was well worth the slog. At the top the views were awesome. On one side are the mountains of Oahu’s interior and on the other is the city and Diamond Head. Once you’ve taken your photos it’s a quad-busting journey to the bottom. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the gunshots I mentioned earlier, those are because nearby there’s a shooting range!
Bottom to top is about 800m and gains around 300m altitude
Bring water as there are no facilities on site.